Legal History Milestones
Famous Jurists, Lawyers, and Lawgivers

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Ur-Nammu (2047-2030 BC), ancient Sumerian ruler: formulated the first law code: the Code of Ur-Nammu consisting of casuistic statements (for example: If a man commits a murder, that man must be killed).

Hammurabi (1792 - 1750 BC), king of Babylon: known for the set of laws called Hammurabi's Code, one of the first written codes of law in recorded history. These laws were inscribed on stone tablets standing over 2.4 meters, discovered in Persia in 1901.

Moses (1391–1271 BC - according to Rabbinical Judaism), according to the Hebrew Bible Moses was a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed. According to Jewish tradition, the entire Torah, both written and oral, was revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai. The Torah is probably the oldest body of law still relevant for modern legal systems. It takes the form of moral imperatives, like the Ten Commandments and the Noahide Laws.

Draco (7th century BC) was the first legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece. He replaced the prevailing system of oral law and blood feud by a written code to be enforced only by a court. Because of its harshness, this code also gave rise to the term draconian.

Solon (638 – 558 BC), ancient Greek Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and poet: Solon revised the first written code at Athens, the severe code of Draco. He is remembered particularly for his efforts to legislate against political, economic and moral decline in archaic Athens.

Chanakya (370 - 283 BC) was a teacher to the ancient Indian Emperor Chandragupta: traditionally he is considered the author of the ancient Indian political treatise called Arthasastra and among others it was an authoritative legal guidance.

Gnaeus Flavius (4th century BC), Ancient Roman: the first person to publish an account of legal procedures in ancient Rome.

Theophrastus (371 – 287 BC), Ancient Greek and student of Aristotle: his work On the Laws contained a recapitulation of the laws of various barbarian as well as Greek states and was intended to be a companion to Aristotle's outline of Politics, and must have been similar to it

Han Fei (280 - 233 BC), Ancient Chinese philosopher: developed the doctrine of the School of Law or Legalism that was centered on the ruler by which the ruler controls the state with the help of three concepts: his position of power, certain techniques and laws.

Quintus Mucius Scaevola Pontifex (2nd century BC), a politician of the Roman Republic and an important early authority on Roman law. He is credited with founding the study of law as a systematic discipline.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 - 43 BC): was an Ancient Roman philosopher, statesman, orator and famous lawyer.

Salvius Julianus (110 - 170 CE), Ancient Roman: authored a comprehensive edict (law code), even though it did not formally have the force of law it indicated the requirements for a successful legal claim. The edict therefore became the basis for extensive legal commentaries by later classical jurists like Paulus and Domitius Ulpianus.

Yehudah HaNasi (Judah the Prince) (135– 219 CE), rabbi and chief redactor and editor of the Mishnah - the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the Oral Law. Rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah over the next three centuries were redacted as the Gemara, which, coupled with the Mishnah, comprise the Talmud (central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history).

Muhammad (570 - 632), the founder of the religion of Islam: is considered by Muslims to be a messenger and prophet of God, the last law-bearer and the last prophet of God as taught by the Quran. Sharia law, also known as Islamic law is the moral code and religious law of Islam. Sharia is derived from two primary sources of Islamic law: the precepts set forth in the Quran, and the example set by the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Sunnah (the practice of Prophet Muhammad that he taught and practically instituted as a teacher).

Maimonides (or Rambam - Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) (1135 - 1204), was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages: His fourteen-volume Mishneh Torah still carries canonical authority as a codification of Talmudic law (see above).

Stephen Langton (1150 - 1228) was Archbishop of Canterbury: drafted the Magna Carta in 1215 (The Magna Carta was an English charter which included the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority to date.).

Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr (1292-1350 CE) was a Sunni Islamic jurist, commentator on the Qur'an, astronomer and philosopher: His scholarship was focused on the Hadith (a saying or an act or tacit approval or criticism ascribed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad) and Fiqh (an expansion of the Islamic code of conduct - Sharia (see above).

John Locke (1632 – 1704), English philosopher: in his Two Treatises of Government he outlines a theory of political or civil society based on natural rights and contract theory.

Sir John Holt (1642 - 1710), English lawyer and served as Lord Chief Justice of England: together with Lord Mansfield (see below) they were the leading proponents of incorporating the lex mercatoria (commercial law) into the common law.

Sir William Blackstone (1723 - 1780), English jurist, judge and Tory politician: He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England (an influential 18th-century treatise on the common law of England).

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705 - 1793), British barrister, politician and judge: noted for his reform of English law as he modernised both English law and the English courts system.

Jean-Jacques-Regis de Cambaceres, 1st Duke of Parma (1753 - 1824), French lawyer and statesman during the French Revolution: best remembered as the author of the Napoleonic code, which still forms the basis of French civil law.

James Madison (1751 - 1836), American statesman, political theorist and the fourth President of the United States: regarded as the “Father of the Constitution” for being instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and as the key author of the United States Bill of Rights.

Edmund Jennings Randolph (1753 - 1813), American attorney and the first United States Attorney General. As a delegate from Virginia to the Constitutional Convention, Randolph introduced the Virginia Plan as an outline for a new national government. He argued against importation of slaves and in favor of a strong central government.

Alexander Hamilton (1755 - 1804) was a Founding Father of the USA and one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury..

Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826), an American Founding Father who was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809).

Clarissa "Clara" Barton (1821 - 1912), was a pioneer American teacher, nurse, and humanitarian: was instrumental in campaigning for the ratification of the First Geneva Convention by the United States, which eventually ratified it in 1882. She is best remembered for organizing the American Red Cross.

Walther Adrian Schücking (1875 - 1935), German liberal politician, professor of public international law and the first German judge at the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague. He was one of the six German delegates to the Paris Peace Conference and a negotiator of the Treaty of Versailles (one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers).

Clara Shortridge Foltz (1849 - 1934): the first woman lawyer in California.

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Last updated: February 2018
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